Lifestyle advice

We love this lifestyle medicine screening questionnaire from the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine. This can help you focus on what matters most to you right now, and which areas of your lifestyle you might want to focus on.

What does matter to you?

The 12 pillars of good health, a healthy lifestyle should focus on appropriate levels of physical activity, eating real foods and undertaking activities that promote health, quality sleep, effective stress management, avoiding toxic overload, developing healthy relationships, and feeling a sense of purpose.

Genetics play a 20-30% role in our lifespan and our health span (the time where we enjoy good health without chronic illness) but 70-80% of our health span is due to factors in our environmental, like those above. Making even small changes, and starting slow can have a hugely positive effect.

Here are some of our tips, do share yours with us if you find something useful.

Activity:

How can you add physical activity into your daily life and spend less time sitting? Regular exercise can help us live longer, reduce periods of ill health in our lives and increase the all-important health span. Can you write down some ways to improve your aerobic exercise? Can you add 2-3 sessions to improve muscular strength each week? When do you practice balance? Do you remember your pelvic floor exercises?

Do you love being with nature? Might ecotherapy, connecting with nature, be something you would enjoy? Clear and abundant evidence demonstrates that interaction with nature affects not only our well-being but our health throughout life. A simple walk in nature can reduce anxiety, lift your spirits, and even improve memory. Do read more about the benefits of ecotherapy in this article if it interests you.

These are some examples you might enjoy, if you are exploring different ideas:

Sleep

Ensuring we get enough, good quality sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing, and so it is for good reason that sleep is one of the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine. Sleep is essential for restoring our energy levels and giving our bodies a much-needed rest. We are becoming increasingly aware of its wider health benefits – as well as the harmful effects of poor sleep and sleep deprivation. There are benefits of getting between seven – nine hours of sleep every night. Do you need to explore this further?

For adults, getting between seven – nine hours of good quality sleep can help to build up our long-term disease immunity. The maintenance of healthy immune cells relies on us getting enough sleep if we are to effectively fight infections and even some cancer cells. The body’s microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms which perform a variety of important tasks for us, also needs sleep to perform its functions effectively.

Our body’s metabolism, which balances our insulin as well as our glucose intake, is in part dependent on sleep. Increased appetite and calorie intake is also associated with sleep deprivation, and may contribute to weight gain.

Cognitive function, memory and mental health are all dependent on good quality sleep. Studies show that when we sleep our brains are busy cementing new learning and processing new information. Lack of sleep reduces concentration, impairs memory, and evidence shows it can contribute to cognitive decline.

To help manage stress and support mental health, good quality sleep is essential. We know that high cortisol levels are associated with anxiety and stress, getting the right amount of sleep can help to manage these. Sleep can also reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, PTSD and the long-term effects of grief. Sleep helps us to process difficult emotions and experiences, giving us a better chance of staying resilient, positive and happy.

Tips for good sleep:

  • Maintain the same wake and sleep time each day
  • Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm and limit alcohol consumption
  • Try to spend some time each day outside in natural light to ensure your body gets a good dose of the melatonin it needs to sleep well. This also helps your hypothalamus to understand the difference between light and dark, triggering your natural body clock and helping you sleep better.
  • Keep active: ensuring you are physically active can help you to enjoy better sleep

Mental wellbeing

None of the six pillars of lifestyle medicine exists in isolation, and mental health is no exception. There is a clear link between all of the other five pillars and mental health – what we eat, how active we are, harmful substance reduction, sleep and healthy relationships.

Tips to improve mental health:

  • Disconnect to Connect- reduce screen time and limit social media use, increase meaningful social connection
  • Practice Mindfulness, meditation, yoga or Tai Chi and spend time in nature to relax and reduce stress and anxiety
  • Avoid unhealthy habits – we often mistakenly think smoking and drinking alcohol will reduce stress but in the long-term these toxic substances harm our mental and physical health
  • Sleep well – getting good quality sleep for seven to nine hours each night can help to improve mental health
  • Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline while releasing positive “feel good” hormones such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Regular physical activity also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which has generative effects in the brain, improving cognition and memory and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Keep a gratitude journal to nurture positive psychology and focus on the good things in life, and maintain meaningful social connections and be kind to others to improve health, happiness and well-being

This FAQ is about how lifestyle can improve our pillars of health, but if you need support with your mental health please speak with your Dr.

Healthy eating

There is no one diet or way of eating which suits every one for good health. These are some tips and include advice from the BSLM:

  • Explore how you can enjoy protein in every meal and snack
  • Eat the rainbow, aiming for 30+ different plants each week and vary them: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes
  • If choosing meat or fish, choose unprocessed – and if you can choose food with high welfare credentials with less hormones and antibiotics in the processing the better.
  • Advice is to eat ultra-processed food and drinks sparingly. These are foods which have been processed with the addition of additives and preservatives and are high in salt, fat and sugar.
  • Choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods such as rice, pasta and bread
  • Ensuring you have adequate dietary calcium, about 1000mg a day
  • Ensuring you have adequate Vitamin D levels from sunshine on your skin or consider taking a supplement
  • Gut health is important: learn more about fermented foods, fibre, probiotics, prebiotics and polyphenols from the Zoe podcasts and this might be helpful: The Zoe gut guide

The Mediterranean diet pyramid

How to balance your plate to eat well

  • Hydrate well with water
  • Consider reducing caffeine, if necessary and think about when you are drinking caffeine and might it be having an effect upon your sleep?

Minimising harmful substances

The risks associated with harmful and toxic substances – such as alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs – are well known. Smoking and heavy drinking in particular are key behavioural risk factors associated with many chronic physical and mental health conditions.

Achieving positive behaviour change is the difficult part – and this is perhaps most challenging when it comes to reducing or stopping harmful substances like smoking or drinking too much alcohol.

Lifestyle medicine can help to support with replacing harmful – and largely ineffective – ways to “feel good” and reduce stress with healthy alternatives such as physical activity, connecting with nature, sleeping well, eating healthy food, meditation, listening to music and improved social connections.

Listen to the BSLM podcast on creating healthy habits

Healthy relationships

Enjoying healthy and meaningful relationships and better social connection is essential for good mental and physical health.

As human beings we are hard wired to connect with each other; we are social beings and our family and community relationships give our lives purpose and meaning. Connecting with others not only helps us to survive but to thrive.

There is a growing evidence demonstrating a link between the quality of our social connections and the associated risk of conditions including obesity, heart disease and even some cancers. Our mental health too is closely linked to our relationships with others, and loneliness is a key risk factor for depression. High levels of loneliness can increase the risk of heart attack and strokes by 30 per cent.

How often do you see others?

Social connection and healthy relationships are critical to a lifestyle approach to healthy longevity alongside being active, a healthy diet, getting good quality sleep, avoiding harmful substances, and reducing stress.

Other recommendations

Lifestyle medicine calls for a move away from the traditional doctor-patient relationship where the clinician is the expert information provider. This is needed because we now know that giving simple lifestyle advice such as “eat less and move more” is often ineffective. At Rowena Health we want to work with you to improve your hormonal health and your general health, we feel lifestyle plays a vital part.

Dr Carys Sonnenberg Rowena Health

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